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Type D personality and cardiovascular reactivity to stress

A research paper on Type D personality and cardiovascular reactivity to acute psychological stress by Adam O’ Riordan,Tracey Keogh , Prof. Stephen Gallagher and Dr Siobhán Howard was published in the Journal of Psychology & Health (January 2022). This paper was supported by funding from the Irish Research Council and the John and Pauline Ryan PhD Scholarship.

Type D (distressed) personality is characterized by increased levels of both negative affectivity (NA) and social inhibition (SI). The NA facet refers to the tendency to experience an array of negative emotions across time, while the SI facet refers to the tendency to inhibit the expression of these negative emotions during social interactions. Therefore, although Type D individuals experience these negative emotions, they tend to “bottle up” these emotions in order to avoid disapproval from others.

Over the past two-decades, Type D personality has been consistently associated with an increased risk of poorer outcomes in cardiac patients including reoccurring heart attacks, incidents of cardiac revascularization procedures and death. Atypical (both high and low) cardiovascular reactions to stress is suggested as a key pathway leading to poor health amongst these personality types. Thus, we conducted an experimental study in order to examine how individuals with Type D personality psychologically and physiologically (heart rate and blood pressure) react to stress.

A total of 173 healthy young adults competed a standardised cardiovascular reactivity experimental protocol consisting of a resting baseline and a stressor phase (mental arithmetic). Participants were screened for Type D personality using a personality questionnaire (DS14 questionnaire).

The results showed that Type D individuals exhibited blunted (atypically low) blood pressure reactivity to acute psychological stress. However, these effects were evident for young women and only for a maths task, i.e, a less socially relevant stressor. Variations in cardiovascular reactivity between Type D men and women may represent discrete processes leading to separate clusters of health outcomes.


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